I ran the Belgrade Marathon in 2009 as a member of the USA Military Marathon Team. The Serbian Military hosted this International Military Competition in conjunction with the Belgrade Marathon, so we were competing not only for our national teams, but also as individuals eligible for a fairly sizable prize purse.
I came in 3rd in the military competition and 4th female overall. Military awards were presented on the spot, but the monetary awards would be "sent directly to our bank accounts", according to race officials. I won 2000 Euros for my 4th place overall finish. That's $2700 and more money than all my lifetime race winnings combined. Not only did I work my butt off in that race which was hot and miserable, but I also went through the full drug-testing protocol ordeal as detailed in my race blog.
I tried to get as much information about payment before I left the country and even gave the military contact that had the best command of the English language a voided check with my bank account information on it to expedite the payment process. As you might have guessed, I still haven't seen a single Euro from my Serbian friends.
Over the course of the last year, I have attempted to make contact with the race organizers via e-mail about eight separate times. I received two responses. One e-mail from Dejan Nikolic (race director, I believe) came in over the summer after I contacted the head of the military competition organization (CISM) with my complaint. The excuse: they were waiting on the doping test results and payments from sponsors which would be coming in within the next week.
After several more months passed with no word, I checked out the 2010 Belgrade Marathon website. It is still a go, however the tab that reveals "prizes" is not enabled for the 2010 marathon though it still shows up for the 2009 marathon. While I have another source of income to support my running habit, there are professional athletes that won prize money that probably rely on it to live. I was now on a mission for us all (assuming that they were also stiffed).
About two weeks ago, I sent an e-mail to the general contact address at the IAAF, since they show up as a sponsor of the 2010 Belgrade Marathon. I wanted to inform them of this wrongdoing. A week later, I see a series of unintelligible numbers flash on my cell phone, and I ignored the call. The caller left a voicemail, and it was Dejan, the race director from the Belgrade Marathon, calling to apologize. He even called me back later, and this time I answered.
Dejan explained that all of their sponsors reneged on their donations to the 2009 marathon and that they had no ability to pay the prize money. He said that they were sorry for not keeping me informed, but they had been waiting to hear from their sponsors who were all devastated by the bad economy. He did say that they have a plan to pay me and the rest of the athletes. They will take this year's sponsorship money and pay last year's winners. I'm okay with that as long as this year's winners aren't expecting the money. He sounded quite sincere in his sorrow, saying it was hard to work on the event every day knowing that he had this cloud hanging over him from last year.
I fully expect to not get paid, but there was something satisfying about getting that call. I really do feel sorry for the professional athletes who won 5000 Euros and probably do rely on that money to live. Maybe, just maybe, we'll get a nice surprise after the 2010 sponsors pay up. As they say in Serbia, Srećno!